First impressions

Pros share their initial impressions of the vast Sabine River system, and what it will take to win the first Elite Series event on these waters.

ORANGE, Texas — Water, water everywhere.

That sums up what more than a few Bassmaster Elite Series pros said when asked to describe their first impressions of the Sabine River system.

One of those pros was Elite Series rookie Kevin Hawk.

“There’s a lot of water. There are a lot of fish out there too, but, for all that water, they’re pretty grouped up. Ninety percent of the fish seem to be in 10 percent of the water,” said Hawk, a California native now living in Guntersville, Ala.

Echoed another Alabama pro, 2012 Classic champ Chris Lane: “Lots of water — oh, there sure is a lot of water.”

Like most of the 100 Elite Series pros, Lane and Hawk had never seen, let alone fished, the Sabine River system before their Monday-Wednesday practice period for the 2013 season opener. The Sabine River Challenge presented by STARK Cultural Venues is set to begin Thursday and wrap up Sunday with $100,000 and a 2014 Bassmaster Classic entry awarded to the winner.

Arkansas pro Scott Rook said his first impression was also about the vastness of the Sabine fishery. He was struck by how much it’s like the Louisiana Delta.

“It reminds me of the Delta near New Orleans. I like the Sabine, I like it a lot. I like the shallowness of it — it’s bank fishing for the most part. If we had a 12-inch length limit, it would be a lot of fun. There’s a lot of 12-inchers, but a 14 is hard to come by,” Rook said.

He was referring to the 14-inch length limit for largemouth bass in this event.

Alton Jones of Texas underlined how high a value one bigger bass will hold this week.

“The key is to put yourself in a place where you might get that bite. It will go a long, long way if you get it,” said Jones, who won last year’s season opener on the St. Johns River in Florida.

Chris Zaldain, a second-year pro from California, came up with two words: “Scarce — and crowded.”

“It’s going to fish small. Since the hurricanes, with the saltwater intrusion, the fish came up and are impacted in small areas. So the anglers are going to be impacted in tiny areas as well,” Zaldain said.

Steve Kennedy of Alabama remarked on the seemingly endless numbers of bass. Like Rook, he searched hard over his Monday-Wednesday practice period to find the bigger fish.

“Somebody will find some ‘stuff’ with bigger fish,” Kennedy said. “Not sure I did.”

Kurt Dove, a native Virginian who now lives in Del Rio, Texas, said that to him, the Sabine looked a lot like old home water.

“It looks like the Potomac River and the James River, but without the grass,” said Dove, back in the Elite Series after dropping out several years ago to guide full time, and then requalifying for the 2013 season. “Anytime you get close to a coastal area like we are here in Orange, I relate it back to the area I grew up fishing. You can catch tons of fish here. It’s just hard to get the right size.

“And a neat thing here is you catch a lot of redfish, too. I probably caught five or six really good ones in practice, even one that was probably 27 or 28 inches. That was cool. They’re fun to catch,” he said.

Redfish certainly don’t count in bass competitions, but did he keep a redfish for dinner?

“No,” he laughed. “I put them back.”